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Satellite images can help with environmental land management, say Surrey scientists - University of Surrey

Small blue butterfly habitat satellite image (University of Surrey)
Small blue butterfly habitat satellite image (University of Surrey)

Academics at the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability have undertaken research that proves Earth Observation satellite imagery can accurately assess the quality and quantity of some habitat types.

This discovery opens up cost-effective routes to monitoring, reporting, and verifying land management incentive schemes, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ new Environmental Land Management scheme.

Environmental land management is a crucial element of adapting to protect communities and natural habitats --- which is a goal of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in November.

In March 2021, the UK government announced the scheme as a replacement for the EU Common Agricultural Policy to support the rural economy while achieving the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan and helping to meet carbon emission reduction commitments. The scheme will use public money to pay farmers and land managers in England to deliver a set of ‘public goods’ that cover clean air, clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife, protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards, beauty, heritage and engagement, and mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

To confirm that their approach has practical application, the University of Surrey team worked with ecologists to test the use of satellite imagery in establishing habitat criteria for five example species or species groups in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of the areas in the first set of DEFRA’s trials for the Environmental Land Management scheme. Two types of butterfly, skylarks, hazel dormice, and dragonflies and damselflies were chosen for investigation because they act as bio-indicators of appropriate and healthy habitat, both for themselves and in terms of the wider ecosystem. They also represent a range of habitat needs such as chalk grassland, woodland, pasture, arable land, hedgerows and inland water.

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